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Your Anchor is your Friend

Your Anchor is your Friend

I admire David Fraser's willingness to share his "less than optimal" sailing experiences in these blogs so that others can learn from his mistakes. They say there are those who don't make mistakes (I don't believe that), those who learn from others' mistakes, those who learn from their own mistakes, and those who never learn. Aiming at the second category, I want to imitate David's example by offering a recent experience of my own.

The other day I got to the Club a little early, and thought I'd play with jib-only sailing on a Quest before lessons started.

I left the (Cal Adventures) dock under jib only, having done nothing with the mainsail. I was planning to go out and dock under jib alone a few times before students showed up. That was the plan, at least.

The wind was pretty much westerly, so I was leaving on a beam reach. I knew that jib trim was really important, and that I shouldn't start out pointing too high. But for whatever reason, I couldn't point high at all. No matter what I tried, I was going slowly downwind, toward the rocks. Maybe I wasn't handling it correctly, maybe the Quest can't point high on jib alone, who knows? Sometimes it's you, sometimes it's the boat, sometimes... who knows what it is? What mattered then was that I couldn't do it.

I decided to heave to and get the main up, admitting failure (better than landing on the rocks). The mainsail doesn't always go up easily on the Quests (especially on this one), and it looked like getting the boltrope into the mast track might take some doing. When you're properly hove to, you have some sideways way on--that is, you're slideslipping--and I was going slowly, slowly toward the rocks. I had no idea how long it might take to get the main up.

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Recent Comments
Rama Hoetzlein
Thanks for the interesting story. Based on these experiences, I wonder if you have any tips on what to do differently to sail upw... Read More
Tuesday, 11 July 2017 23:11
John Bongiovanni
What I didn't say in the blog was that I went out a few days later and did much better, as the purpose of the blog was the importa... Read More
Friday, 14 July 2017 17:28
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The two-handed drill for puffs and lulls

The two-handed drill for puffs and lulls

A while ago, James Clarkson recommended one of Frank Bethwaite's books on sailing to me. I forget which one, as I now have three of them. They're incredible but incredibly dense, so I'd only recommend them to the "quants" of the sailing community. And even then, you'll read a lot more about  weather systems than you ever wanted to learn, and more detail on everything than you can comprehend. That's how Frank was. He was a pilot (of commercial flying boats, think about that), a meteorologist (the official metereologist of the Austrailian Olympic team in several Olympics in the 1970s), and a sailing fanatic as coach and designer. Three of his kids (sons and daughter) won Olympic medals, and one of them may have invented the gennaker (as always with inventions, there are priority disputes). Frank died in his 90s in 2012.

For the patient reader, there's really wonderful stuff in his books. One is an explanation of why sail twist needs to be very different in light winds than in higher winds (another post?). And there are many others.

One very practical thing I got out of his books was a technique and a teaching technique of how to respond to puffs and lulls. We all know how to do this, we do it, and we teach it to some extent. You have three controls: weight placement (out in a puff, in in a lull), tiller (pinch in a puff if the boat can do it, fall off in a lull), and sheet (easy in a puff, trim in a lull, not just mainsheet, but also jibsheet if you're really concerned about speed). I tell basic students that they have these three controls, and to use one or more  of them when they get a puff (at this point in their development, they're not so worried about lulls).

Frank was obsessed with keeping the boat flat and as fast as it can go (these are correlated). Assuming a decent wind, you're hiked out. We're assunming you have the tiller extension in one hand and the mainsheet in the other. A puff will heel the boat to leeward, and a lull will heel it to windward if you don't move your weight in either case. His technique is this: when the boat heels, don't move your weight, but move both hands to the down side, the sheet hand more than the tiller. Never luff.

So in a puff, you're easing the main as you're pointing slightly upwind. In a lull (or in the recovery after a puff), you're doing the opposite - sheeting in the main and pointing slightly downwind.

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gene Golfus
"Both hands away" is the most Wonderful thing i have heard as a beginning student. It is worth it's weight in gold. I would hat... Read More
Sunday, 12 November 2017 21:49
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An important fine point on Docking in Low Tide

One of the things I love about sailing is that I learn something every time I go out, I'm constantly expanding my knowledge and skills.Talking with several of the very best sailors in the Club recently, I heard the same sentiment.

We're in the season of low tides and early closings, and I learned something about low-tide docking.

I did a blog post a while ago on docking in low tide. I recommend looking at this post, as you need to dock in a completely different way than you normally do. You come in way upwind instead of downwind, and you don't (can't) slow sail (you'll just get pushed sideways into the seawall).

In the present post, I want to amplify a small but important detail, which I discovered recently docking in low tide (wind from the east in this case, but that doesn't matter). I was following more or less the course I recommended in the earlier blog: go upwind, downwind past the dock, and then shoot up:

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Rigging a Bahia's Reefing Line

I've had to correct mis-rigged Bahia reefing lines recently, so I thought I'd explain how to rig the line properly. You'll have to do this if the main sail is crunched at the leech when you raise it fullly or if you can't fully reef the sail.

It's a little confusing, as it's two lines in a "jiffy reef" system, so that you only have to pull on one line to pull down both the luff and the leach of the sail. But once you get the picture, it isn't that hard to deal with. Here's what it looks like:

The line through the leech of the sail attaches to a block in the boom. The line through the luff of the sail runs through the block and back out the forward end of the boom through the cleat.

So what happens when you reef is this. You pull on the line at the forward end of the boom. This pulls the block attached to the leach line forward through the boom, pulling the aft reefing line down and raising the boom to the reefing gromet. You get here:

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Ryan Alder
Nice description on how to get the right length of the two lines attached to the block! Not knowing the technique, it takes a lot... Read More
Tuesday, 06 September 2016 14:22
John Bongiovanni
The diagrams are based on the Bahia manual, so they're the manufacturers recommendations, for whatever that's worth. However, I b... Read More
Tuesday, 06 September 2016 15:52
John Shearer
Hi John! Excellent guide on the reefing process! I have to agree with Ryan on the routing issue. If the manufacturer recommende... Read More
Sunday, 13 November 2016 15:41
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Separating the Gybe from the Turn

Separating the Gybe from the Turn

Something I’ve found to help students when they’re learning to gybe is to separate the gybe from the act of turning the boat. A gybe can require no turning at all, and understanding this will improve your gybes and reduce your likelihood of capsizing.

Most of the time, the reason we are gybing is because we want to turn and go the other way while sailing downwind. Maybe we've reached Ashby Ave and we have to head back before we start to feel the disapproving glare of the day leader through their binoculars. Or we're doing tight circles around a buoy and have to keep turning through the gybe. But really, gybing has nothing to do with turning, other than if we're turning downwind, we have to eventually gybe or we just can't continue the turn.

The gybe itself is nothing more than changing tacks (from port to starboard or vice versa) while sailing downwind. Or to put it more simply: a gybe is flipping the sail from one side of the boat to the other. If you’re on a dead downwind run, there is no turning needed. In fact, there are reasons to gybe that don't involve a turn at all. A common case is during racing--if you're on a dead run and want to obtain right of way by switching from port to starboard tack. No turning needed. Or maybe you're headed back home and the wind shifts a bit and you realize you're now sailing by the lee, so you flip the sail to get yourself out of accidental gybe territory. No turning needed.

I've noticed a lot of students (understandably) connect the turn and the gybe and want to turn through the gybe, from broad reach to broad reach, which can often result in a capsize. To help disconnect the two actions I've started doing this exercise:

  • Get on a dead run. Get the jib to cross to the center of the boat and try to keep it there. Watch out for the accidental gybe, and tell your crew to do the same. If you have crew you may want to have someone hold the boom in place to avoid a gybe before you're ready.  They'll also be able to feel the main starting to get back-winded, so they can let you know you've turned too far off the wind.  Maintaining a dead-run can in-itself be tricky, and if you can hold this reasonably well in waves, you're off to a good start!
  • Look at what you're heading towards on the horizon. Try to find a fixed reference point.
  • Now gybe. Try to keep the boat headed dead downwind. Use your reference point on the horizon if it helps. Once the wind catches the sail on the other side, it will try to turn the boat up, so maintaining your heading will require some counter steer with the tiller.  Think of it as a light version of the S-turn.
  • Once you're confident you're still on a run, gybe again.
  • Now do it faster, back and forth, while maintaining course.
  • Try to get down to a few seconds between gybes.
  • By now you're probably at the rocks, so better tack your way back up to the restaurant and do some more.

I've found this tends to create a light bulb moment and hopefully makes gybing in general a little smoother.

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Recent Comments
Michael Sherrell
I don't think I'd encourage correlating wind direction with landmarks. One of the most widespread problems at the club is sailing ... Read More
Saturday, 02 July 2016 07:53
Ryan Alder
Yea I'm on the fence about that part for that reason, and I don't always mention it, depending on how the student is doing. This i... Read More
Sunday, 03 July 2016 23:53
John Bongiovanni
On a dead run, you have some pretty good indicators on the boat. Ryan mentioned one in a way I hadn't thought of - the jib, and tr... Read More
Wednesday, 06 July 2016 22:50
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